Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

More than 120 churches in Syria damaged or destroyed by war

Christians made up about 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million

More than 120 churches and Christian places of worship have been destroyed since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, a war monitor has said.

A report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, based in the UK and associated with the opposition, said the Syrian regime and militant groups such as ISIS hit Christian churches to intimidate and displace the minority.

While some of the attacks were deliberate, such as ISIS using bulldozers to destroy the ancient St Elian Monastery in Homs province in 2015, most were by front-line combat, shelling or rockets.

Christians made up about 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.

They coexisted with the Muslim majority and enjoyed freedom of worship under President Bashar Al Assad’s government.

Most have left for Europe over the past 20 years, with their flight significantly gathering speed since the start of the current conflict.

About half of all Syrians are now either internally displaced or have left the country.

The network, which collects statistics on the war, said government forces were responsible for 60 per cent of the 124 documented attacks since fighting erupted in March 2011.

The rest were blamed on ISIS militants, the Al Qaeda-linked umbrella group of militias Hayat Tahrir Al Sham and other factions of the armed opposition.

There was no immediate comment from the government, which rarely comments on reports from foreign organisations.

The report said ISIS was behind 10 attacks on Christian sites, five of which were in the northern city of Raqqa, once the extremists' de facto capital.

The group was known for displacing and killing Christians in areas it controlled. It also confiscated their properties.

Hardest hit was the northern province of Aleppo, with 34 attacks – 24 by rebels and six by the government.

The highest number of attacks by government forces, 27 out of 29, was in the central province of Homs.

The report also blamed Syrian government allies Russia and Iran, but did not specify how many of the attacks they had caused.

Syrian government forces and their allies unilaterally agreed to a truce on August 31 in opposition-controlled Idlib, where a "de-escalation zone" was brokered two years ago.

But air strikes hit a part of north-west Syria for the first time since a ceasefire was declared 10 days ago.

Updated: September 11, 2019 04:37 AM

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